OTI Online
Winter 1999

Fighting breast cancer through art

It has been said that art thrives in adversity -- and if that is true, there could be no more telling proof than these creations by women with breast cancer. At once exhilarating and emotionally draining, angry and hopeful, the works on these pages were part of an extraordinary exhibit in San Francisco earlier this year. The accompanying captions describe each artist's feelings and experiences as she battled breast cancer. The collection is intended to provide a window into the hearts and minds of women who, inspired to create in the pain and adversity, present the art and outrage of breast cancer.

The multi-media exhibit featured the work of some 56 artists and 21 writers, and was sponsored by a coalition of three national nonprofit organizations, The Breast Cancer Fund, the American Cancer Society (San Francisco Bay Area), and the San Francisco chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. It served as a platform for many educational and fundraising events.

We hope this portfolio will help lend emotional strength and courage to the one in eight women who are now, or who will be, counted in the statistics of the breast cancer epidemic, and their friends and families. These works also are a clarion call to all of us to support efforts to find better ways of detecting and treating the disease, and, ultimately, to eliminate it (see "How You Can Help" at the end of this article).

Photos of art works and accompanying captions by the artists reprinted from Art.Rage.Us., Art and Writing by Women with Breast Cancer, introduction by Jill Eikenberry, Epilogue by Terry Tempest Williams, published by Chronicle Books, courtesy of the publisher.

ME by Marilyn Kaminsky Miller

Marilyn Kaminsky Miller, 16" x 16"
clay, stains, and acrylics, 1997

Radiation treatments are given daily for several weeks. To make sure your body is in the same position each time, a mold is made of the area around the part being radiated. This piece was made from my radiation mold. Not knowing what the radiation treatment would feel like, I was extremely scared the first time out. I felt nothing. When the treatment began, I was entranced by the beauty of the pattern the laser light reflected from my body back up to the machine. The red lines on this piece are one of the patterns I saw.

The Mastectomy Quilt by Suzanne Marshall

The Mastectomy Quilt
Suzanne Marshall, 64" x 52"
textile, 1992

After my bilateral mastectomy, I became alarmed by stories of women who found lumps in their breasts but avoided treatment because they feared disfigurement. I was also concerned that many women do not realize they have a choice about implants and cosmetic surgery. It is not necessary to conform to society's image. The story of the quilt reads from left to right. A healthy, whole woman walks along with everything right in her world. Then she gets a mammogram. She receives a diagnosis. She has the surgery. After her recovery, she goes back to the doctor, who asks if she would like to have more surgery for implants. She says no! The message of the quilt is enjoyment of life amid flowers and music. Fear of disfigurement is no excuse for postponing a mammogram. A changed body is not important -- life is!

Nike of Mastectomy by Kay Minto

Nike of Mastectomy
Kay Minto, 29 1/2" x 29" x 14"
lava rock and aluminum, 1992

During my brief stay in the hospital, I kept thinking about the Nike of Samothrace, the Greek statue of winged victory. When I got home, I felt compelled to do my own version. I worked for months on the torso, welding and fitting the aluminum. All the while, my left brain's analytical voice kept whispering, "This is a pretty static composition - no dynamic tension. Are you sure this is right?" And yet through experience, I had learned to trust the creative process. I spent another ten days welding a wing. The moment I attached it to the body, Nike came alive.

     Maybe there's a lesson for life here. If I let go of judging what happens to me, then perhaps I can glimpse a larger pattern in life. My challenge now is to live day by day with the same trust I have when my art is unfolding. Ray Bradbury said, "You have to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." For me, completing the Nike was like graduating to a new stage of life, being transformed from an earth-bound being to a woman who can fly.

Deadly Myths by Kelly Forsberg Said

Deadly Myths
Kelly Forsberg Said, 24" x 30"
oil and marker, 1997

The statements on this picture were some of the first comments I heard after I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at age 27. My goal at the time was to live to be 30. Luckily, my youth, stubborness, and determination got me through: Last October I celebrated my 38th birthday. This self-portrait shows my bilateral mastectomy. I'm wearing a scarf to hide my baldness. The yellow flames at the bottom show my anger, but I outlined myself in green, which makes me think of spring, new growth, and healing. Painting these ridiculous statements allowed me to let go of them.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Contributions to the ongoing Art.Rage.Us. Project may be sent to The Breast Cancer Fund, 282 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94105, or call 1-800-487-0492

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